THANKS TO England’s record-breaking 38-21 victory against New Zealand in December, there is genuine optimism that they can continue from where they left off and win the forthcoming Six Nations.
After Stuart Lancaster’s team defeated world number ones New Zealand last month, BBC Sport pundit and former England international Jeremy Guscott hopes that the Red Roses can maintain the same level of performance.
The annual Six Nations begin on February 2 and Guscott believes that England are legitimate favourites to win the 119th edition of the Northern Hemisphere tournament due to their emphatic triumph over the All Blacks.
The ex-Bath centre - who played for England 65 times, scoring 30 tries – told the Voice of Sport: “They’ll [England] be everybody’s favourites because of that record win against the All Blacks and I suppose rightly so but they must be confident having played in such an awesome game. It’s difficult not to keep talking about it.”
“Someone like myself, I work for the BBC and I love the Six Nations, I enjoy the sport and I’ve been playing it since I was seven-years-old; I’ve watched that game at least four times and I’m still gobsmacked at how well they played."
Guscott, based on his analysis, said: “Lancaster just needs to see consistency and the consistency has to be that All Blacks game.
EXPERT OPINION: Guscott
"Given that he did finish second last season, a similar position or a little bit better would be acceptable. If we look at last season they were very inexperienced, they were all very new both as coaches and players but they managed to get second.
“They’ve got more home games this season and I would expect the same if not one better.”
Wales are the reigning Grand Slam champions but have suffered seven defeats in a row and look out of sorts, hence why Guscott reckons it will be a three horse race.
“For me, the Six Nations is looking like a battle between England, France and Ireland,” said Guscott.
“These days sport is so much about how you are mentally and I don’t think Wales are in a great spot right now so I would put them out of it.
“Ireland, for them it’s all about that first game against Wales as it was for Wales last season. And if Ireland can win that one they know they’re in a great position because they’ve got England and France at home so they’ll fancy themselves there.
“France had a fantastic autumn beating Australia and putting away Argentina and Samoa, and they did it with relative ease. They looked very controlled, they looked comfortable doing it and that’s a very strong side.”
London Irish are currently second from bottom of the Aviva Premiership, but centre Jonathan Joseph has still been included in the 33-man England squad. While Guscott acknowledges the promise that Joseph has, he cannot see the 21-year-old having a major role at the Six Nations.
“JJ has massive potential but playing for London Irish and what they’re going through this season has not helped,” he said. “He needs to get the headlines, by hook or by crook, whether it’s scoring tries or putting in big defensive tackles. But Lancaster knows what sort of player he is and knows what he can offer.
“If this was last season JJ would be in. I’m sure he would be selected but because he hasn’t been fit and playing at a good side he’s more than likely going to be overlooked but he’s a seriously talented kid who could do very, very well.”
Northampton Saints lock Courtney Lawes has also been picked in the squad, but is no longer a guaranteed starter mainly due to the emergence of London Wasps second row Joe Launchbery.
Lawes has recently recovered from injuries and Guscott compared the 23-year-old’s situation with that of Joseph’s.
“Courtney’s just got to re-establish himself a bit like JJ. He got injured, somebody has come in and played well. That’s the nature of the beast. With Launchbury arriving, he’s an all-round footballer where Courtney’s strengths are defence and his athleticism of getting around the park.
“If Courtney wants to challenge Joe then he’s got to work at his attack, he’s got to look at his offensive play. If he ran with the ball in hand like he does without it when he tackles, he’d be sensational. However, he hasn’t got that skill yet so if I was him that’s what I’d work on.”
A veteran of three British and Irish Lions tours in 1989, 1993 and 1997, Guscott – who famously converted a winning drop-goal against South Africa that clinched the series win in 1997 – recognises the significance of the Six Nations, especially with the Lions tour of Australia taking place in the summer.
He added: “It’s massive. If you don’t perform, you don’t expect to go so every game is double-edged.
“If you want to play, you need to catch the eye of the Lion’s selectors but if you do play well then business will take care of itself.”
*Jeremy Guscott is an expert pundit for BBC TV - Six Nations is exclusively live on BBC TV, Radio and online from February 2.